Internet entrepreneur Graeme Wood is not a billionaire. And he hasn’t made it into Wayne Swan’s terrible trio of greedy rich people who oppose the Gillard government. Yet.
But he’s doing his level best. And he’s taken out our title of No. 1 Rich Crusader.
In 2010, Wood set a new Australian record for political donations by giving the Greens a whopping $1.6 million to fund a prime-time TV ad campaign, which helped them win the balance of power in the Senate.
This alone might well have secured him the top spot, because it delivered a carbon tax that could change the face of Australia. But it’s only one of Wood’s many successful attempts to buy influence or action.
The laconic businessman is determined to give away most of the $370 million he made from starting Australia’s No. 1 travel website Wotif, and he has already spent at least $50 million of it, mostly to protect the environment.
Last July, Wood and his fellow green activist, Kathmandu founder Jan Cameron, bought Tasmania’s Triabunna woodchip mill from forestry company Gunns for $10 million, and promptly shut it down, to end the logging of native forests in southern Tasmania.
As you can imagine, the locals down there just love him for attempting to take their jobs away. And so does Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who called for a royal commission to inquire into the purchase.
But Wood — who we’re told is currently on “extended leave” from his office in Brisbane — appears not to care about the criticism. “It is really entertaining to see how cranky some people get,” he told Launceston’s Examiner. “Eric Abetz grinding his teeth is a very pleasant sound for me.”
It’s no wonder the Right see Wood as a left-wing version of Andrew Forrest or Gina Rinehart, trying to buy influence in the political debate, especially since his latest venture is a new online newspaper, The Global Mail, which he has pledged to fund to the tune of $15 million over the next five years.
Wood’s take on this new publication, which is free and free of ads, is that Australia desperately needs more intelligent investigative journalism, and that democracy thrives on a healthy media. But that’s not what the Right thinks. As Andrew Bolt put it on his blog: “A super-rich boss with strong opinions from the political fringe now controls a media asset that’s now pumping out the owner’s world view.”
Wood has promised he won’t be telling journalists at The Global Mail what to write, telling Crikey recently that: “Neither the owner nor the board has editorial influence.”
But Bolt responds that: “He won’t need it, now that he’s got a group-think collective which will, unbidden, take all the standard Left positions.”
According to Bolt, Wood and his editor at The Global Mail, former ABC Media Watch host Monica Attard, have assembled “a like-minded cabal of journalists of the Left, with not a single known conservative among them”. “Do these people even see their hypocrisy?” he asked triumphantly.
The Power Index has no problem with Wood starting his own news website, and would not care if Rinehart did so too. It’s not the same as hijacking an established media group like Fairfax and changing its editorial policies.
But what Wood is doing with the Triabunna pulp mill gives us more cause for concern, because 33 jobs are at risk in a small community.
“We don’t want to see people thrown out of work,” Wood told The Australian last year, “but we also probably see more clearly the need for a restructuring in the forest industries generally and for people to open their minds about new ways of making a living in that part of Tasmania.”
Wood and Cameron are hoping to re-open the pulp mill, using native logs, and run it for five to seven years, before turning the site into a vineyard and eco resort, but so far they haven’t found an operator.
“People are starting to think about moving on,” Orford Chamber of Commerce secretary Mick Fama told The Power Index, “but it could turn out OK.” Fama claims not to have seen Wood in town since the takeover, because “it’s all being handled by Jan Cameron”.